By Lisa Richwine
LOS ANGELES, April 26 The biggest drama in soap
operas these days isn't who's cheating, fighting amnesia, or
waking up from a coma. It's whether the backstabbing and love
triangles that hooked afternoon TV viewers will work on the
In a bold wager to revive canceled ABC soaps "All My
Children" and "One Life to Live," a pair of Hollywood veterans
are taking the 40-year-old dramas online, remaking them for
lifelong fans and a younger, Internet-savvy audience.
Starting Monday, new 30-minute episodes will appear each
Monday through Thursday on the free Hulu.com website and the
paid monthly subscription service Hulu Plus. Fans can also buy
episodes in Apple Inc's iTunes store.
The producers, former Walt Disney Co TV chairman
Rich Frank and talent management veteran Jeff Kwatinetz, hope to
ride a wave of interest in first-run series online, highlighted
by the recent buzz for Netflix original drama "House of
Cards" and its coming revival of one-time Fox comedy "Arrested
The trick will be to entice the soaps' older and not always
Internet-savvy viewers while luring a younger crowd with
faster-paced storylines, modern music and contemporary actors
next to the shows' longtime stars.
"The challenge and opportunity for them," says Stephanie
Stopulos, digital director for media buying firm Starcom USA,
"is how to continue to engage the people that are so passionate
about it, and also use it as an opportunity to grow."
To beckon new viewers, the producers cast "Jersey Shore"
star Jenni "Jwoww" Farley as a bartender on "One Life to Live."
Paula Garces from the wacky "Harold & Kumar" movie franchise has
joined "All My Children." Snoop Lion, previously known as rapper
Snoop Dogg, wrote and sings on the theme song for "One Life to
Live," and will play himself in some episodes. He made cameo
appearances when the show was on ABC.
The soaps' rebirth will test whether older-skewing audiences
will migrate online, and reverse a trend that has seen
viewership decline by more than one-third since 2000. When it
ended its TV run, "All My Children" attracted an average
audience of 2.5 million viewers with a median age of 57,
according to Nielsen data provided by Horizon Media.
To appeal to both older and younger viewers, the online
soaps will have the same suspense, heartbreak and betrayal,
though plots will move quickly and avoid the more outlandish
storylines from the soap operas of the past, Kwatinetz says.
The shows "won't be bringing people back from the dead," he
says. "There won't be people rescued from aliens. The stories
are grounded, the storytelling is quicker paced. It's more
The online soaps need to attract new generations to survive
long term, says syndicated columnist Lynda Hirsch, who has
written about soaps for more than 30 years. "You can't have your
base die off," she says. "You've got to get younger people."
"All My Children" and "One Life to Live," once hour-long
afternoon dramas, were stalwarts in what Time magazine once
called "TV's richest market." The big advertising dollars from
the daytime soaps supported prime time schedules during their
heyday in the 1970s and 1980s, when Luke and Laura's 1981
wedding on "General Hospital" attracted a massive 30 million
viewers on ABC.
Soaps thrived because they had a lock on one of TV's most
sought-after demographics, stay-at-home moms, who couldn't get
enough of the hunky doctors, evil twins and juicy cliffhangers.
As the numbers of women in the workforce increased, soap operas'
popularity faded, the audience aged, and network executives had
trouble making the economics work.
In April 2011, Disney-owned ABC announced it was canceling
"All My Children" and "One Life to Live." At the time, producers
Frank and Kwatinetz were building a studio called Prospect Park
with cable TV hits "Royal Pains" and "Wilfred," and taking note
of online video's growing popularity.
Internet distribution offered a direct route to younger
viewers in the 18-to-34 demographic, a group that watches video
whenever they choose on cell phones and tablets. Having episodes
on demand also meant viewers didn't need to be home during the
day, or to even be near a television, to catch up.
Prospect Park is backed by funding from private equity firm
ABRY Partners. The studio will receive a majority of the ad
revenue collected from episodes on Hulu, a person familiar with
the arrangement said, and a percentage of the sales from iTunes.
Content providers typically keep 70 percent of iTunes sales.
Each soap has its own Facebook page splashed with glitzy,
Vanity Fair-style cast photos, and they have already registered
more than 1 million "likes" combined. Stars tweet and field
questions via video chats. The studio is also running print,
television and radio promotions, including an ad in Parade
magazine, a weekly that draws readers over age 50.
Soap expert Hirsch believes fans will embrace the shows, if
they understand the new platform. Some longtime viewers don't
realize they can watch for free on Hulu.com, she said. "There is
so much confusion. No matter how many times you write this, they
are not getting it."